June 25, 2015

6/18/15 - Grand Portage NM

Once again we stayed at a casino RV park near the shore of Lake Superior, way up in the arrowhead of Minnesota, just a few miles south of Canada. (I didn't know they call it the "arrowhead". I just kept referring to it as the "pointy part" until someone laughed at me. What are friends for???) The view wasn't quite as good as last time, but we were up on a hill overlooking the Marina so we could still see the lake.
The campground was close enough to walk to Grand Portage National Monument.  The Voyageurs were the French Canadian "travelers", the workhorses of the fur traders. They'd pick up furs from the trappers, then transport them to the trading posts. Most of the time they used canoes, but when there were rapids or waterfalls, they had to portage the boats and bundles around.

The voyageurs had to carry two 90 lb. bundles of furs (and the canoes) overland through the woods! The Grand Portage was about 8 1/2 miles from Fort Charlotte to Lake Superior. George and I wouldn't hike that far without packs. We are such spoiled wimplings now.

The Heritage Center is a joint project between the NPS and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. It has exhibits about the history and culture of the Ojibway people (another word for Chippewa) as well as the fur trade. You can learn how to make a birch bark canoe or basket, or weave cedar mats, or make porcupine quill birchclouts and beaded and embroidered gauntlets. For some reason, I just looked at the displays this time and didn't read the how-to's. Sorry...
After oohing and ahhing over the craftsmanship in the display cases, we headed outside and across the road to the historic site. They've reconstructed the North West Company Fur Trade Depot, which was the summer rendezvous point for the voyageurs and fur traders.

First you walk through the Ojibway village. I don't know where they got the birch bark, but I know the trees around here aren't as big as they would have been back then. I don't know where they lived in winter, but these look like summer cottages to me.
The Canoe Warehouse has replicas of big birch bark cargo canoes. There are interpreters in costume who explain what's what and how and why.

The depot is behind a palisade, but they say it wasn't for protection. Maybe it helped block the wind off the lake.
In some places they've got the location of unreconstructed buildings marked with chunks of wood and unmown grass. It gives you an idea of the size and a chance to use your imagination about what it would have been like then.  History is like that--you can read all the facts about it but it all has to filter through your brain. The more practiced your imagination is the easier it is to recognize how it was. My imagination is pretty good, although I didn't see any bears in the woods around here.
The Great Building was the hub of the place during Rendezvous. There's a dining area, bedrooms for the company partners, shops and

The kitchen is in a separate building. The interpreter was able to answer my questions. Can't get over how knowledgeable the volunteers are in all the parks!
I asked about the birch bark cone, and she popped it off to show me a sugar loaf, which is the way sugar was sold during Colonial times. After processing, they put it into molds. (The cones were such a familiar shape a lot of conical mountain peaks around the world are named "Sugarloaf".) The metal tool is a sugar nipper. First you break a piece off with a hammer, then you use the nippers to make smaller pieces, then you use a mortar and pestle to grind it down to granulated or powdered sugar. (The wimpling comment holds in the house too. I'm really glad we don't have to do this.)
After exploring inside, we went down to the wharf, through the Voyageurs encampment and back to the campground.
More pictures here: Grand Portage NM

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